NCAA Sweet 16 Preview — We’ll Know the Final Four on Sunday Night
Sixteen men’s college basketball teams remain hopeful of making the 2015 Final Four in Indianapolis. Regional semifinals are set for Thursday and Friday, with the winners playing in the regional finals on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Here’s a preview of the Sweet 16 matchups:
Thursday, March 26
Staples Center, Los Angeles
(1) Wisconsin vs. (4) North Carolina: 7:47 p.m. on TBS
How They Got Here: Top-seeded Wisconsin blew out No. 16 Coastal Carolina and nudged past No. 8 Oregon to get to L.A. Fourth-seeded North Carolina edged Harvard, 67-65, and drilled Arkansas in the Round of 32.
Preview: The Badgers are one of the best teams in the country, relying on forward Sam Dekker and center Frank Kaminsky to lead their attack. Seasoned point guard Marcus Paige and championship-level coach Roy Williams ensure the Tar Heels won’t be intimidated by any team. If Carolina shoots well and wins the rebounding battle, it could pull the upset, but Wisconsin is very disciplined.
(6) Xavier vs. (2) Arizona: 10:17 p.m. on TBS
How They Got Here: Second-seeded Arizona drubbed No. 15 Texas Southern and bounced No. 10 Ohio State to get to the Sweet 16. Sixth-seeded Xavier topped No. 11 Mississippi and No. 14 Georgia State to advance.
Preview: The Wildcats -- and the Pac-12 in general -- didn’t get enough respect during the regular season. Arizona forwards Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are incredibly athletic, NBA-ready talents. Musketeer center Matt Stainbrook can control a game against some teams, but it’s hard to imagine him dominating the Pac-12 champs.
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland
(3) Notre Dame vs. (7) Wichita State: 7:15 p.m. on CBS
How They Got Here: Third-seeded Notre Dame dropped No. 14 Northeastern and No. 6 Butler to advance to the Sweet 16. Seventh-seeded Wichita State beat No. 10 Indiana and No. 2 Kansas.
Preview: The Fighting Irish have an elite offense led by Jerian Grant and Zach Auguste. They’ll need to bring their best game and rain three-point shots against the scrappy Shockers, who knocked out some Midwestern college basketball royalty on the way to this round. WSU’s Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker can put up points and defend. The Irish can’t look past this opponent.
(1) Kentucky vs. (5) West Virginia: 9:45 p.m. on CBS
How They Got Here: Top-seeded Kentucky routed No. 16 Hampton and No. 8 Cincinnati on its way to becoming the first team ever to start a season 36-0 in Division I history. Fifth-seeded West Virginia got past No. 12 Buffalo, 60-62, and No. 4 Maryland to advance.
Preview: The Wildcats have used the nation’s toughest defense and deepest talent pool to achieve a historic season. Unless the Mountaineers’ press can force the Big Blue Machine into a flurry of turnovers — and conversions — the Wildcats should march into the Midwest final.
Friday, March 27
Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
(4) Louisville vs. (8) N.C. State: 7:37 p.m. on TBS
How They Got Here: Fourth-seeded Louisville survived No. 13 U.C.-Irvine, 57-55, and then ran past No. 5 Northern Iowa to return to its fourth straight Sweet 16 appearance. Eighth-seeded N.C. State needed a buzzer-beater to oust No. 9 LSU, 66-65, and then scored a bracket-busting 71-68 upset over top-seeded Villanova.
Preview: Back on Valentine's Day, the underdog Wolfpack beat the Cardinals, 74-65, and that was when Louisville still had since-dismissed Chris Jones. The Cards hope Terry Rozier, Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear can continue to lead them forward. N.C. State’s Trevor Lacey and Anthony "Cat" Barber are the type of backcourt players who can carry a team to the Final Four.
(3) Oklahoma vs. (7) Michigan State: 10:07 p.m. on TBS
How They Got Here: Third-seeded Oklahoma beat No. 14 Albany and No. 11 Dayton to reach the Sweet 16. Seventh-seeded Michigan State surged past No. 10 Georgia and then knocked off No. 2 Virginia to further bust the East Region race wide open.
Preview: The Sooners are the highest seed remaining in the region and will rely on Big 12 Player of the Year Buddy Hield to guide them. The Spartans and head coach Tom Izzo have won six of their past seven games, and seniors Travis Trice and Branden Dawson must shine for Michigan State to win.
NRG Stadium, Houston
(2) Gonzaga vs. (11) UCLA: 7:15 p.m. on CBS
How They Got Here: Second-seeded Gonzaga beat No. 15 North Dakota State and then topped No. 7 Iowa last weekend. Eleventh-seeded UCLA upset No. 6 SMU, 60-59, and cruised by No. 14 Alabama-Birmingham.
Preview: The Bulldogs are stocked with West Coast Conference Player of the Year Kevin Pangos and a huge frontcourt of Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski. The Bruins are a better team than when they lost to Gonzaga, 87-74, in December, but they may not have improved enough to reach the regional final.
(1) Duke vs. (5) Utah: 9:45 p.m. on CBS
How They Got Here: Top-seeded Duke looked unstoppable while routing No. 16 Robert Morris and No. 8 San Diego State. Fifth-seeded Utah stopped No. 12 Stephen F. Austin and beat No. 4 Georgetown to make it to Houston.
Preview: With Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones and Matt Jones in the lineup, the Blue Devils can match anyone’s talent. However, their bench isn’t deep. If Utah can force tempo and get Duke in foul trouble, this could be a close game.